Or so they thought until they took a closer look at the earth and discovered thousands and thousands of eggs!
That night, Tevye slept restlessly. The clamor of the pots and the pans continued to ring in his head. He dreamed of bondage in Egypt and the plagues God had sent to humble Pharaoh.
“Let my people go!” Tevye yelled out in his sleep.
The locust storm lasted a week. After a long, solemn Sabbath, the troublesome eggs had to be gathered. Myriads upon myriads remained in the fields. Workers and settlers alike got down on their hands and knees to pick them out of the soil. Like the pioneers had done in clearing the swamps, ditches were dug and the eggs were dumped inside. After pouring arsenic into the pits, the locust graveyards were sealed. The Jews all prayed that the clean-up would put an end to the enemy, but, as Elisha pointed out, if neighboring settlements didn’t take the same precautions, a new invasion was sure to erupt. Messengers galloped off to coordinate the campaign with the other Jewish colonies along the coast, but no one was certain that Bedouin villages would agree to join in the battle against the eggs to prevent them from hatching. When the clean up was finished, the settlers set to work plowing and planting, as if they were starting anew. Besides the loss of their produce, the poisons used in destroying the eggs cost large sums of money. And five cows were lost when they lapped up a trough-full of groats which had been inadvertently sprinkled with the arsenic used in destroying the eggs.
Shimon was crushed. Here, they had almost proven that a colony could survive without the massive bureaucratic machine of the Baron, and then, as if overnight, the locusts had wiped out their gains.
“It isn’t as bad as all that,” Tevye said, trying to cheer him. “After all, in the beginning we started out with nothing at all. This time, we are starting out with houses, and barns, plus dry, workable farmland, and fields that have already been plowed.”
For all of Tevye’s optimism, the always energetic Shimon was a crestfallen man when he rode off to Zichron Yaacov to put in a request for emergency JCA aid.
Once again, Tevye returned to work in the fields.
“Don’t despair,” he said to himself over and over until the famous Talmudic teaching turned into a song. “Even if a sword is poised to slit a man’s neck, it is forbidden to fall into despair.”
As he walked along scattering seeds into a dry sandy wind, he glanced up at the horizon. At first, he thought that the advancing black cloud was rain. Then he reasoned that it must be a dust storm. But as he stood shielding his eyes from the increasing gusts, his fears were soon proven true. Once again, coming out of the north, locusts flew out of the sky like flashes of angry lightening. A vast cloud spread over the colony as if covering the face of the earth. Like in the days of the Flood, the sun disappeared in the face of God’s wrath. Locusts hopped, jumped, and flew over everything. Wings slashed at Tevye’s face like daggers. Within minutes, whatever vegetation remained in the fields was totally consumed.
Holding his arms over his head, Tevye staggered through unending swarms toward the shelter of his house. Animals cried out in panic as settlers herded them toward the barns.
“How much, O Lord?” he asked. “How much suffering does a man have to bear to prove his devotion to You?”
When he barged open the door to his house, tears were streaming down Carmel’s face. She had been in the field with Moishe and Hannei when the new storm appeared in the sky. Before they could return to the house, the locusts engulfed them. Carmel had lost a hold of the children. They were still wandering somewhere outside in the tempest.
“Where were you?!” Tevye demanded.
“We had just reached the orange grove,” she answered.
In an instant, Tevye was out of the house. Locusts smashed at his face. He couldn’t see two steps ahead of him. Looking down at his shoes, he forged his way through the storm in the direction of the orange grove. Locusts battered him fiercely, darting into his eyes and catching a hold of his beard. Blindly, he staggered forward, shouting out the names of the children. When he reached the orange grove, he heard Moishe calling. The grove was no longer a grove, but a cemetery of leafless trees. Calling to one another, Tevye made his way toward the boy’s voice. Hannei was sobbing hysterically. Her brother lay over her, protecting her from the hurricane of ravaging insects.